Guns and 3D Printing Revisited: A Diversionary Blank
On October 9th, 2014, BTR published the article “Guns, 3D Printing and Internet Anonymity in the 21st Century.” In it, the author discussed how 3D Printing R&D Firm Defense Distributed uploaded a Youtube video of an AR-15 with a 3D Printed lower receiver—a part legally considered a firearm under federal law—pumping out hundreds of rounds without malfunctions. As the author claimed, this example showed how 3D printing could subvert the “expensive heavy machinery for production” of firearms, how it could bring about a dystopian future scenario where “cheap, deregulated firearms are available to anybody with a computer,” and even foreshadow a “libertarian paradise” enabled by technology.
It’s true that firearms can be extremely sophisticated works of craftsmanship and engineering. But making something that’s simple, cheap, and will reliably go bang, all in your garage? That knowledge has been around for at least a century, and it’s been used before any 3D printer ever cranked out a blob of plastic.
For instance, ever since the enactment of strict gun control measures in Australia following the 1996 Port Arthur massacre, 10% of all firearms seized by Australian police are homemade. Based on schematics freely available online, these weapons are often built reliable, accurate, and even fully automatic: reflecting a high level of technical sophistication without any use of a 3D printer.
And considering the historical record of how Chechen separatists manufactured their own “Borz” automatic weapons, how IRA militants did likewise, and how the British STEN gun was built in dozens of resistance workshops across WW2 Europe, the message is clear: 3D Printing has not appreciably increased firearms availability in any real way. We already live in a world where private citizens can and do legally manufacture their own weapons for personal use. And that world is overall safer than ever before. Rather than rely on the Band-Aid of technological regulation, we should tackle the social issue: reform the criminal justice system, end the suicidal War on Drugs, and, most importantly of all, raise our children in more stable family environments—as children raised under single motherhood make up as much of 70% of youth in custody.
For this reason, any attempt to crack down on and regulate 3D printing information should be viewed with skepticism at best and downright rejection at worst. It doesn’t make sense to limit free expression even a little bit. This would in itself set a dangerous precedent, especially for what amounts to a non-issue.
With all this in mind, why is the State Department trying to ban the online distribution of 3D Printer firearm schematics? The answer is simple and understandable, yet delusional. Whenever new technology appears, people push the envelope of human possibility, whether it’s using steel rather than stone for a knife or paying with a binary stream rather than hard currency. In trying to catch up to the unrelenting pace of technological development, regulation often ends up like a lumbering beast: slow, sloppy, and often destructive, as phenomena like the Great Firewall of China prove.
This is not to say, however, that regulation is inherently harmful to technology. On the contrary, entities such as the Internet would not exist without the government research and standardization that went into its development. As a direct result of this regulation, though, we also have the NSA and all of its activities that create gross privacy violations.
Thus, technology regulation should take a hands-off approach, with exception to convenience across industry and combat against organized crime.
It makes no sense to give the government the precedent to curtail First and Second Amendment Rights by regulating 3D Printing information or any other forms of information. Though the “libertarian paradise” of the future might be more unpredictable and chaotic than we would like, it is unrivaled in the most fundamental of all rights: freedom.